SEA Junior Scholar of the Month for May 2018: Heather Finch
How did you become interested in studying early American literature?
My interest in Early American literature began with my strong contemporary concerns with racism and oppression. I craved a clearer understanding of how America continues to struggle with viewing all people as human beings. I wanted to know in more detail how America got here. My goal then became to learn all I could about how America has never reconciled the past. I started asking questions within my own family and recognized the fragmented nature of the narratives, especially those of the women. This led me to ask questions about the earliest narratives written by black women, and when the numbers of black women in the Americas did not match the number represented in literature, I took on the challenge to continue the interdisciplinary work that questions why those numbers do not match and what ways can we adjust our approaches to amplify the narratives we have and find more narratives.
Who is your favorite early American writer, or what is your favorite early American text, and why?
Phillis Wheatley is one of my favorite Early American writers. She presents more questions than answers, and I believe that is important when considering the human experience of an enslaved woman. Her writing creates an intersection where readers have to critically think about the human experience in the institution of slavery. I believe that critical thinking adds to the many questions we have about Wheatley and her writing and asks us to consider who else is writing, why they are writing, and why we have not read their works.
What are you currently working on?
My current work explores the impact enslaved women’s narratives have on our understanding of the experiences black women have now. This exploration highlights the fragmented narratives of pre-nineteenth century enslaved women as clearly connected to black women’s voices in social justice as currently seen in the movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and March for Our Lives. Also, since at the core of my work I believe I am interrogating freedom and how we understand it, I am working on a book chapter where I consider my students on their own journeys toward understanding, freedom and identity and how I bring my experiences as a Black woman to the classroom community. I ask my students to consider our collective national experience, amplifying narratives surrounding freedom. My engaged pedagogy asks students to consider who has accessed freedom in the past and who can access it now based on gender and racial identities. I reflect on the narrative my body tells in the classroom and how my skin symbolically represents what I teach.
What is something you are reading right now (EAL related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally?
I’m finishing up Matthew Desmond’s Evicted which reminds me how important marginalized narratives are. His work illuminates the layered systems that impact many people’s access to quality housing. The narratives woven in with the statistics and laws remind me that when it comes to equitable access and opportunities the narratives of the marginalized and oppressed have to be included in order to create humane change. This inspires me to continue exploring the fragmented narratives of enslaved women because their experiences and the marginalization of their narratives provide a site full of lessons that teach us how to amplify marginalized narratives.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you, and why?
Many scholars in this field inspire me. Lisa Brooks and her work fuels my curiosity when considering women’s experiences and their narratives. “Our Phillis, Ourselves” is one of the texts that helped me as I approached Wheatley’s work. I often return to this piece when working to consider what other questions I have for Wheatley.
Heather Finch is Faculty Fellow in English at Belmont University.